By Amy M. Collins, editor
As a person who suffers from health anxiety, going to the doctor is always an ordeal. While some hypochondriacs tend to seek medical care with fervor, I am of the variety that avoids it at all costs. Unless it’s necessary.
Recently I had a necessary diagnostic test that involved a contrast agent. Several things about the test worried me. I was told it might hurt; I’d never had a contrast agent before (and on House—a show I should never watch—patients are always allergic to it!); and I was afraid that during the exam I would panic, faint, or cry.
Some people might be thinking: “suck it up!”—and I wouldn’t blame them. But I promise you, this isn’t something I’m proud of. I’d love to be more stoic when it comes to medical procedures/visits. Unfortunately, anxiety is a real thing. It is illogical and it can sometimes take over one’s senses. I spent the days preceding the test sleepless and tense.
The day of the test came, and I prepared myself as much as I could to just get it done. I told myself that people go through far worse—in fact, I had just visited my 90-year-old grandmother in the hospital, who was in good spirits despite breaking her hip and being in incredible pain.
Thankfully, the physician and nurse were more than understanding. I told them right away that I had health anxiety and that even though the test was “no big deal,” it was to me. The physician immediately put me at ease by taking me seriously and injecting some humor into the situation.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I’ve seen it all,” he told me. “You might be nervous, but you won’t be the worst patient I’ve seen.” He told me about his fear of roller coasters and how his children recently forced him on one. While this didn’t exactly make me less nervous, it made me more comfortable.
The nurse explained the procedure, step by step, which put me further at ease. Part of my anxiety is the unknown, so her detailed explanation helped. She and the physician answered my numerous questions about the contrast agent, how likely it is for one to be allergic, and how soon we would know if I was, without making me feel silly for asking. The nurse explained that the pain wouldn’t be too bad, and compared it to other types of pain so I could put it into perspective. She showed me how sterile everything was, and how unlikely it was that anything would go wrong.
Throughout, she was kind, gentle, and caring. During the procedure, she talked me through each step so that I wasn’t left guessing what was happening and when. During the part that “might cause pain,” she silently came over to me and held my hand. I was so appreciative of this act of kindness that I almost cried.
When it was done and I was none the worse, I couldn’t stop saying, “Thank you for being so kind.” My nurse looked a bit surprised at my emotional outburst. As if what she did wasn’t something special—as if this is what she does every day. But not every provider is like this.
I once had a physician shout at me to stop being a baby when I was nervous during an exam. I’ve had my panicked state met with indifference and annoyance. So while this nurse was “doing her job,” and perhaps it all seemed routine to her, she made an incredibly huge difference to this anxiety sufferer—one I won’t soon forget.